Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Disputed Vehicle

By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

Levi was known to have a car and Shimon started using it but when Levi asked him to desist, Shimon retorted that he bought it from him. The licensing bureau was on strike and the true ownership could not be documented, so Levi summoned Shimon to a beis din. Shimon claimed the above-mentioned right of chazakah that anything a person now holds is assumed as his (Shulchan Aruch, C.M. 133:1). Apparently, the solution to the problem depends on the two explanations in Rashbam’s commentary on our Gemora: Anyone purporting to own real estate known as another’s must produce a bill of sale or other proof and, if not, relinquish his claim. Regarding chattels, though, the present holder of the goods may claim the above right of chazakah without further proof of acquisition as his physical possession proves his ownership: We assume he did not enter the owner’s premises and steal them, but made a legal purchase.

Our sugya, though, tells of a person with goats in his possession, claimed by the original owner, and asserts that chazakah in this case is inapplicable but that he must prove he bought them. Rashbam (s.v. Hagoderos) offers two reasons to differentiate goats from other chattels: (a) They move about by themselves, as opposed to other, immobile chattels. (b) Other chattels are kept at home whereas goats are usually out grazing. Chazakah, we said, stems from the assumption that a holder of chattels has not stolen them as most people are not so brazen to rob others’ homes. Goats, though, may be stolen in two ways without invading another’s premises: (a) They could wander into the holder’s premises by themselves. (b) He could take them from a public or ownerless area. The ease of their theft undermines the claim of chazakah.

How is a goat different from a car? In his Netzach Yisrael (41), HaGaon Rav Yisrael Grosman asserts that accoding to Rashbam’s first reason, cars are not like goats: They don’t move by themselves. According to his second reason, however, cars may be compared to goats as they are not kept at home.

To decide if chazakah applies to a car, then, we must determine whether Rashbam links the two reasons – i.e., chazakah doesn’t apply only if both reasons prevail, as in the case of goats – or if merely one reason suffices to overrule chazakah. Rav Grosman learns from Tosfos in Gittin (20b, s.v. Ta shema) that one reason is enough and Shimon must therefore prove his ownership.

Still, in his Darchei Choshen (I, p. 197), HaGaon Rav Y. Silman insists that entering and driving another’s car is the same as breaking and entering into his premises. Most people are not suspect of such crimes and Shimon does not have to prove his ownership.